Child Health and Development

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To reach their full potential, children need high-quality health care and services—especially in life’s early years. Health promotion, safety, disease prevention, and early identification and treatment during these earliest years lay the foundation for healthy development.

Mounting evidence that health during childhood sets the stage for adult health creates an important ethical, social, and economic imperative to ensure that all children are as healthy as they can be. Healthy children are more likely to become healthy adults. FPG's scientists study many aspects of child health and development—from prenatal health to infant brain development to stress management in adolescents.

Featured FPG News Story

Through a $3.8-million, five-year NIH-funded project, FPG Faculty Fellow and UNC School of Medicine researcher Aysenil Belger, PhD, and FPG Senior Research Scientist Diana Fishbein, PhD, will examine neurological and psychological factors that lead some adolescents with anxiety symptoms to use controlled substances. The goal is to improve precision-based, targeted interventions for these teens.

Featured Publication

COVID-19 has led to a child care workforce and mental health crisis for staff, families, and children under age three (infants and toddlers). The current level of stress for chil­dren, families, and infant-toddler early care and education professionals and its impact on infant and toddler well-being needs our attention. FPG researchers contributed to an article addressing this subject.

Featured Person

Sandra Soliday Hong, PhD, is an expert in applied measurement of contextual and individual factors in early care and education (ECE) settings that relate to the outcomes of young children, particularly for children from diverse backgrounds. Soliday Hong started her career as a preschool teacher before working in applied ECE research, practice, and policy.

Current Projects

The purpose of this project is to support the development of the early childhood practitioners’ ability to care for children and get them ready for kindergarten by improving their capacity for implementation of interventions in primary care settings.
This project will develop an African-centered, culturally responsive practice guide with specific strategies, exemplars, and materials with connected professional learning modules to guide effective implementation. The ultimate and long-term goal is to increase Black children’s social, cognitive, and emotional skills (e.g., racial identity, engagement, learning motivation, regulation), leading to strong academic and social competence and school success.
This replication study seeks to demonstrate the effectiveness of Targeted Reading Instruction (TRI, formerly called Targeted Reading Intervention) in helping grade 1 struggling readers make substantial gains in reading during one school year. It extends prior TRI studies by conducting an independent external evaluation of the TRI, testing long-term impacts for struggling readers into grade 3, and examining teachers’ sustained impacts for three years.
Through collaboration with national, state and local coalitions and organizations, the Equity Research Action Coalition will identify, track and align strategies to strengthen the focus on protecting, promoting, and preserving the well being, health, wealth, access and experiences of Black families and their families through anti-racist and cultural wealth policy making framework and communication.
This study will examine the early biological embedding of health and disease risk in young children’s telomeres, a biomarker of cellular aging. We will conduct a novel longitudinal study to examine the effects of prenatal and postnatal early life adversity (i.e., poverty, parent conflict, maternal stress) on accelerated biological aging, including telomere erosion and epigenetic aging clocks, across the first three years of life.
This project leverages and builds upon an existing longitudinal cohort to propose hypotheses that investigate the ways in which early life stress alters well-specified developmental processes to adversely affect neurodevelopment in childhood and increase risk for obesity and other health outcomes. It extends our prior data collection both retrospectively and prospectively in order to amplify and enhance our focus on adverse exposures and health and behavior outcomes.
The purpose of this project is to establish the psychometric feature and instrument useability of a practitioner-administered observer impression scale assessment of preschool children’s peer-related social competence. The ratings for this scale are based on three 5-minute observations of preschool children engaging in social interaction with their peers. The information may be used for general assessment for all children, screening for children who may need support in establishing positive peer social competence, and progress monitoring. At the end of this project, a fully developed, psychometrically verified, and practical assessment of preschool children’s peer social competence, suitable for scaling up for program use, will be available to early childhood programs and practitioners.
The aim of this research project is to investigate the relationships among housing stability, health and well-being, and climate change vulnerability. Findings will be shared with our community-both with people who experience homelessness and housing instability and with organizations and agencies working to serve those populations. The goal is that the research findings will advance racial and economic justice, not just in Orange and Durham Counties, but throughout the United States. As a nonprofit working toward systems change, these findings will influence the day-to-day programmatic work that CEF does and help to influence how CEF can use its person-centered approach while simultaneously steering members toward specific measures that increase stability.
This study aims to identify unobserved heterogeneity and capture complex patterns of program and classroom characteristics to inform targeted program quality improvement and teacher professional development, and identify program quality features and instructional practices that are beneficial for the Migrant and Seasonal Head Start children’s language and literacy development.
The purpose of this collaborative partnership is to bring together the expertise of three research centers from top-tier research universities for the purpose of (a) understanding the science behind how racism impacts the lives of young children of color and (b) developing tools to communicate this impact to people who are making daily decisions on behalf of the well-being of children—their parents, educators, clinical practitioners, and policymakers.
This project will train school staff who support students using pull-out reading instruction and intervention (e.g., “educators” such as reading specialists, paraeducators, instructional facilitators, tutors) to use Targeted Reading Instruction (TRI, formerly called Targeted Reading Intervention) with two adaptations: 1) a digital version of the traditionally “paper and pencil” intervention (“TRI app”) in a 2) high dosage model whereby educators provide daily reading support to multiple K-3 students not yet reading on grade level.
To support The Duke Endowment’s investments in evidence-based practices across the Rural Church and Child and Family Wellbeing program areas, the project team will engage in several system strengthening activities during the six-month period from January 1st, 2024 through June 30th, 2024. Within the Rural Church Summer Literacy Initiative, the project team will (1) support the refinement of the SLI practice model, (2) engage in programmatic coaching with staff at SLI grantee sites, (3) explore future tailored implementation support activities, and (4) provide design and consultation supports for bolstering data collection and monitoring across SLI grantee sites. Additionally, the project team will engage in several start-up activities for a Center of Excellence to support evidence-based programs and practices in North Carolina and South Carolina. These will include leadership engagement and system coaching, organizational development activities, and change management activities.
The purpose of this project is to gather perspectives from current "Parents As Teachers" families and parent educators. This is a developmental evaluation to understand how "Parents as Teachers" could address race-based trauma and stressors and support the positive racial identity formation for young children.
The current study will be the first to examine the influence of early toxic stress, including the distal effects of living in poverty as well as the proximal factors of negative parenting and household chaos, on the development of gut microbiome diversity and maturity across 15, 24, 26, and 54 months.
This project will use secondary data analysis of two longitudinal datasets to test if childcare provider language prospectively predicts child executive functions (EFs) directly or indirectly through child language. We will also examine if different ways of measuring preschool teacher language quality are differentially predictive of child language and subsequent EFs.
The DCFW Implementation Support Project for the DHHS Child Behavioral Health Leadership Team (federally funded component) and its projects continues to build on the existing partnership that the Impact Center has with the CBH team at DHHS. The partnership creates an implementation science, practice-based set of activities and capacity building efforts in support of a multi-tiered policy/governance, program (e.g., EBP) support, and delivery system across North Carolina. Beginning July 01, 2023, the Impact Center will continue to work alongside and receive directions from DCFW Leadership, embed implementation science best practices within the Team, its projects, and support system partners where directed.
The goal of this project is to identify opportunities and barriers to community based organizations, namely civil rights organizations such as the NAACP, The Leadership Conference, the National Urban League, NALEO Education Fund, Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), National Congress of American Indian (NCAI) in prioritizing early childhood development including access to high quality and affordable child care.